SAN JOSE -- The Sharks normally play home games as if they are shot out of a cannon at the opening faceoff.

Saturday night at SAP Center, they played the opening minutes as if they were still searching for a match to light the cannon. And they never did find the match, for the entire first period.

It cost them. The Los Angeles Kings won that period 2-0, then went on to post a much-too-easy 3-0 victory before a crowd that came ready to celebrate but instead wound up tossing out scattered boos in the closing minutes.

"Tonight was red rotten," said Sharks coach Todd McLellan, analyzing his team's performance. "That's simply put."

And it was no way to win a hockey series, even if the Sharks do still hold a three-games-to-two lead in the best-of-seven, with Game 6 set for Monday night in Los Angeles.

"They started faster than us," Sharks captain Joe Thornton said about the Kings, in the understatement of the weekend. "That's a rarity around here."

So what made this night so rare? At the start of Saturday's game, the Sharks were feeling quite good about their chances to close out the Kings and move on to the second round.

But after the Sharks' worst 20 minutes of this postseason -- and an apparent concussion to top-two defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic, to boot -- the whole mojo of the matchup seemed to change.


Advertisement

In Game 2 on the same ice, the Sharks had also trailed by 2-0 after one period. But they rallied to win 7-2. This time, no rally. That ugly first period turned around the game. Turned around the momentum. Did it turn around the series?

No matter how you looked at it, the Sharks were the team that crashed in the turn. When Antti Niemi allowed another goal in the opening minute of the second period, McLellan pulled him off the ice and inserted backup Alex Stalock, who shut out Los Angeles the rest of the way -- as if it mattered. The Sharks flailed and put some pressure on Kings goalie Jonathan Quick, but couldn't get a puck past him.

"Their lives are at stake, their season is on the line," said Stalock, explaining L.A.'s desperation. "They came out fast. It's the playoffs. Stuff like that happens."

Indeed, something similar has happened before here, as recently as 2011. The Sharks began a series against Detroit by winning three straight games, then lost Game 4 and Game 5 -- and also Game 6 -- before winning Game 7 at The Tank to clinch victory.

The same fate may await this series. This would not be good for the Sharks. Their long series against the Red Wings surely took some steam out of the Sharks' legs for the next series, the Western Conference Finals against Vancouver that the Canucks won in five games. Thus, it would behoove the Sharks to finish off Los Angeles at Staples Center on Monday and never get to a Game 7.

But if that is going to happen, Monday cannot be anything like Saturday. The Sharks' malaise was borderline astonishing to watch. The Sharks' passes weren't crisp or tape-to-tape. The defensive coverage was spotty. Niemi failed to bring his "A" game or even his "B+" game. The 18 shots allowed in the first period tied a Sharks' postseason record for defensive softness.

"For whatever reason, we were sluggish, mentally and physically," McLellan said. "I don't think we were lackadaisical or overconfident. I don't think it crept into our group at all."

He may have wanted to clear that up because in Los Angeles before Game 4, McLellan had made reference to a golf expression when he fretted about his team easing up with a 3-0 series lead and said: "If we think we're playing with mulligans, we're in trouble."

Guess what? If they lose again Monday, they are nearing the hazard and the out-of-bound stakes.

Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle, asked straight out if the "mulligan" factor was at work in the team's approach in Game 5, was offended by the inference.

"I can't believe you'd ask that question," Boyle said, his emotion showing. "This is a series. That's why it's a best-of-seven. You can blame it on a lot of things. Winning teams have got to go on. ... We have to win a game. They're a really good hockey team."

Right. And the Sharks need to beat that good hockey team one more time. They won't do it by playing the way they did Saturday.

Read Mark Purdy's blog at blogs.mercurynews.com/purdy. Contact him at mpurdy@mercurynews.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/MercPurdy.